To Do List

by Todd Nigro

Here’s something I found one day last year. It was touching and I wanted to share it. I was finally getting around to cleaning up my desk, and I found a piece of paper. It was a “To Do List” that I wrote presumably in early January 2012, just before Ellie passed away. The items on the list relate to buying Ellie’s cello, setting up the kids swim meet, and getting the address to pay Nathan (Ellie’s cello teacher). Ellie must have seen the list, and she added an important item at the end. I feel like she’s still loving me today when I find these treasures.

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Ellie’s Last Sticky Note

by Todd Nigro

Six-year-old Ellie was always watching people. One day, she noticed that I was leaving encouraging sticky notes around the house for Mommy. She informed me “Daddy, where is my note?” She was irresistible! I began to write her notes and leave them where she would find them. I always wrote her one because it made her so happy (even if Mommy didn’t get one sometimes).

Ellie learned and wanted to give back. She began to write notes and cards to everyone. She took it to a whole new level! Her nice words are on all the neighbors’ refrigerators and were delivered to her swim team coaches. She always had time to write a nice note.

One day last year, I came home for lunch. Just before I left, I was walking out of the garage to my car and I saw Ellie run across the driveway as fast as she could. She darted around the back of the house. I walked up to the car and saw her last sticky note to me. It touched my heart and I put it over the tachometer, and that is where it was for the last few days I had with her.

Ellie was killed in a tragic accident. What a wonderful memory for me. I love you too, princess, you are the best daughter ever!

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The Baseball Instructor

by Todd Nigro

About two years ago, I took my son to his baseball hitting lesson. We really liked the instructor. I was just being friendly and inquired about his kids. He informed me that his son had committed suicide several years before. I remember being shocked and at a complete loss as to what to do or say. I think I probably looked very uncomfortable, and I was. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I probably changed the subject, and I would bet that I didn’t offer up very much in the way of comfort. And, I definitely never brought that up again, until…

Well, things change. After losing six-year-old Ellie, I have a whole new understanding. First, I give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they care, even if it doesn’t seem like it. The fact is that unless you’ve experienced a deep loss, it is hard to empathize and understand. Second, I try to help people with their reactions. I try to make it easy for them as best I can.

I saw the baseball instructor at a game a few months ago. I jumped up and walked up to him. I told him about the conversation we had several years ago and I apologized for my insensitivity and lack of understanding. I told him that I understood that he was so hurt, and that I would be happy to talk to him anytime. Although the circumstances of our children’s deaths were different, we were both fathers without our babies. We shared a hug and a few tears and it was a memorable moment in my life.


Living a Nightmare

by Todd Nigro

I was in a deep sleep. The setting of the dream was at McDonald’s, one of Ellie’s favorite places. She was playing on the playground and there were other kids there as well. I was just watching and I heard a cry. I knew it was Ellie and I looked up. My senses alerted and fear swept over me as I stood up and began running to the playground equipment. Then, she emerged and ran to me with tears flowing down her face. She could barely speak as she jumped into my arms. She was hurt and before she stopped sobbing, I woke up. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but I didn’t like the dream because I was very scared. As I opened my eyes and looked up in the dark, I realized that I was living a nightmare. I didn’t want to wake up, no matter what I was dreaming about. It was a surreal moment to me when reality was worse than any nightmare I can remember.

Ellie’s Hug Dream

I was talking with Kristen one night about how much I missed Ellie’s hugs. She always came running to me when I came home and wrapped her arms around me and just squeezed for a few moments. She knew how to hug me and I absolutely loved it. At night, when I was putting her to sleep, I would lay next to her. She always wanted me to read a book to her, followed by some snuggling, and then I would usually try to leave as I usually had something else to do. She would give me the cutest little kisses. They were little pecks, but I could tell she was really trying to express her love with her kiss. It was just precious. One of my tricks to exit each night was to get the stuffed horse, that I always jokingly called “Donkey”, to lie down next to Ellie. It was a big horse and she would always smile and just say “Daaaaad, it’s a horse!”. I would wrap the horse’s legs around her and the last leg I would kind of clamp down on her tightly. She loved that. Then, she always wanted me to be nearby in the office while she went to sleep.

This morning the dogs woke us up around 5am and by the time I got dressed to take them out, Kristen was already outside with them. We went back to bed. I fell back asleep and had the most amazing dream.

We were getting out of the van and Ellie had just closed the automatic door. I don’t know why but I thought she was opening it and I kind of sternly said, “Ellie!”. Then, I realized that there was nothing wrong and just both looked at each other. I put my arms out and she understood that I was sorry. In that instant, she forgave me for whatever thought I had and just came to me. I knelt down and she gave me the hug that she always did. Then, somehow I lost my balance and fell over backwards. We were hugging and she just fell on top of me. She began to give me her little kisses on my neck and said “Daddy, I love you” over and over between kisses. It was the best dream I’ve ever had. When I woke up, I just cried and cried. Not from sadness so much, but because I had just been a gift that was so precious to me. It reminded me of Ellie’s wonderful gift of forgiveness and love. Thank you God and Ellie, that hug will be with me forever.


Ellie’s T-Ball Coach

by Todd Nigro

I was in line at a restaurant. The man behind me looked familiar, but he would not look my way. He was busy ordering and I considered just not engaging in any conversation. But, then there was a delay at the register, and I thought why not just go for it.

I said, “weren’t you a T-ball coach?” He replied, “Yes, years ago”. I asked him about his kids and he informed me about his new twins and other kids. He asked me about my kids, and I told him I had three, two boys and a little girl in heaven. I said, “I think you were her T-ball coach”.

Tears welled up in his eyes and I could see the pain in his face. He told me that of course he remembered Ellie and me. He was so afraid to say anything. He told me that they cried and cried when she died in January and wanted me to know that they sent a card. I told him that “it is okay”.

I was fine, but this man was crying right there. I felt good that I could ease his burden, and that he remembered Ellie so fondly. I guess people do look the other way. They are afraid and also in lots of pain. The conversation brought back a bunch of great T-ball memories and I’m thankful for that.


911 Operator

by Todd Nigro

Ellie was lying on the floor. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it didn’t look good. I called 9-1-1. A friendly voice answered and inquired about my emergency. She remained calm and did her best to help a desperate father watch his daughter fall asleep forever. Her voice was with me in the scariest moments of my life.

A few weeks after Ellie’s tragic accident, I felt compelled to personally thank all the wonderful people that helped us through the experience. We delivered a poem with words of thanks to the fire station, police station, funeral director, and emergency room staff. I didn’t know who that 9-1-1 voice was, but I wanted to let her know how much she was appreciated. I called the county emergency response facility and left my information and asked for her to call me.

Weeks passed by. I thought that maybe it wasn’t allowed to make contact, kind of like an adopted child with his real parent. Then, one day I received a call. A very weak and sad voice introduced herself. “Hello, Todd, I was the 911…”, then she began sobbing and crying. She struggled to finish, “911 operator”. I could tell that she was devastated. She had been wanting to call for weeks, but just couldn’t. Ellie’s death had taken a huge toll on her. I told her that I had a gift for her and we arranged to meet at Starbucks.

I was sitting outside on a chilly sunny afternoon. A nice young woman walked up an we introduced ourselves. She sat down and we talked. I asked her how she was doing. She told me how she had been shaken and was afraid as she had one child, a daughter, the same age as Ellie. Our situation revealed how precious life is, and how quickly it can change.

She told me “my daughter is my world”. I had learned very fast the danger in that kind of thinking. My family was my world before Ellie’s death. I put all my hope, dreams, and love into my wife and kids. Then, in an instant, I had lost my daughter. Then, my wife was gone too, as her grief consumed her for quite some time. All my eggs were in a basket that was disintegrating before my eyes. But, the great news is that I had reached out to our Father, and began a relationship with Him. I knew that there was eternal hope with Jesus Christ. That faith, hope, and love was sustaining me and helping me to love and serve others even in the midst of painful grief and loss.

I described my faith and gently shared that I didn’t fear anything, as I had been through an unthinkable experience and was still here and able to feel God’s love. I knew that Ellie was a gift to us. She was a blessing and it was her time to go home. I shared my heart and God’s amazing love for her. She listened. I gave her a beautiful picture of Ellie with a poem and handwritten thank you note. It felt that a burden had been lifted and that her heart was beginning to heal through our meeting.

She came to church with us one time and also attended Ellie’s 1st Angelversary celebration with her daughter. I thank God for those wonderful people that serve us all in our deepest times of need. Thank you 911 operators and God Bless You!


Speedboats

by Todd Nigro

Life is like an ocean. I was going through the ocean on a speedboat for forty-two years. It seemed that the meaning of life was to zip from here to there on the best speedboat we could buy. The purpose of life was to provide an exciting life to my family on the boat as we zoomed from each activity to another. My boat was successful and I was in control. I could maneuver around other obstacles to get where I wanted to go. It seemed that we always needed a better speedboat. But, where were we going?

Then, one day, while going very fast, our speedboat crashed in spectacular fashion. Our youngest sailor was killed, and we all were floating in the water with only our life vests. We were each floating away from each other, all alone. We needed help. We were not in control.

It became obvious in those moments that there was help. God was right there, and I asked Him to become my Captain. Along came a rowboat, with no one in it. I climbed in and asked God to help me “save” the rest of the crew. He assured me that our baby was with Him, and He took charge as we located and “saved” the crew.

We all realized that to move we had to work together trusting in our Captain. As we rowed, we saw so many speed boats zooming past us, from here to there. We also saw many crashes, people in the water, and other rowboats with a similar looking Captain.

Our Captain always seemed to guide us to the helpless souls floating in the water. We picked up many and they were given their own rowboats. We were no longer aimlessly moving in a vast ocean with no real purpose, but working together following the will of our Captain, on a path only known to Him.

I plan to keep rowing wherever my Captain takes me.


Larry the Cable Guy

by Todd Nigro

About a week after our six-year-old Ellie died, I was outside with Kristen and a friend. Our dog Maverick was barking at a man up the street in a neighbor’s yard. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. We don’t have a fence for Maverick and he slowly wandered up our driveway. He kept barking obnoxiously and moving closer to the man. I had no choice but to try to get Maverick and stop him. As we got close to the man, he began talking to Maverick and to me.

He said how much he liked daschunds and how he had owned several in the past. I kept getting closer and Maverick eventually walked behind me and would let out a random bark every now and then. The man introduced himself “Hi, I’m Larry”. He was digging a trench for the cable. Obviously, he worked outside all day long and he looked like it. In the past, I would have judged his appearance. But, I seemed to have a different view. I saw a man who wanted to share and needed to talk.

I made a point to just listen. He talked more and more. He told a story about a dog that bit his brother. He respected dogs and was careful with them. He pulled up his shirtsleeve and showed me a scar where a dog had bit him. Then, he said, “What if I was a little kid and that dog came after me? I could have been killed!” Of course, Larry had no idea what happened with our little Ellie. But, it seemed like it was time to share her story.

I figured that he had heard about Ellie’s death. It seemed that everyone had. But, he didn’t know I was her father. I asked him “Did you hear about the death of the little girl last week?” He said he had. He looked at me with eyes of shock and sorrow as I said, “she was my daughter”. He dropped to his knees as the wind seemed to be knocked out of him. It struck him so hard, but not in a bad way. We connected in that moment in a way that is hard to describe. His face was full of compassion.

From there, he recovered and we kept talking. He told about how he was a football player and he tried to play in college. It didn’t work out and he came back home as a failure. He didn’t finish school. He got married and had kids, but was separated and living with his mother. He shared his life story in an honest and open way. He described a lot of pain and suffering that he had been through. I just listened to him.

Larry finally said, “You know what, I’m not a cable guy, I’m an artist. I wrote poetry and I do mandala art.” He described it to me because I’d never heard of it. I told him I’d like to see some of it some day. His eyes sparkled and he said, “I have some of it in my truck!” While we walked to the truck, he recited a poem he had written for his deceased father.

O Lord, don’t let me get that low,
because suicide is not the way to go.
I’ve seen it first hand, and it’s not for any man.

What you leave behind is hard to define.
It eats at your heart, and pulls you apart.
In the days I somber, and through the nights I ponder.

And, as time slides by, I’ve begun to realize,
you were not just my pops, you were my pal.
From my heart, I’ve begun to fall apart.

My life has changed, with you gone.
The inner pain is hard to explain.
In my times of need, I don’t know what to believe.

You were my Rock to lean on.
But now, there’s nothing left but a stone.
And me standing beside it – all alone.

Six feet under, gosh, sometimes I wonder.
Do you feel the rain? Do you feel the pain?
What you have left is hard to explain.
But I know it’s full of mortal PAIN.

The poem was beautiful and I had tears in my eyes as we stood beside his truck. He opened the door and pulled out his art. He showed it to me and I examined it closely and told him it was beautiful. He was so excited and had a huge smile on his face.

I told him “I’d like you to meet my family and my daughter Ellie when you’re through up here”. He said he would like that. I told him to come on down to our house. We still had a house full of family and friends. I announced to everyone that my friend Larry would be coming down in a few minutes and to welcome him.

When Larry showed up, he was welcomed with hugs and handshakes. We went up into the office and I wanted to show him the secret videos that Ellie had made last summer. Her personality just sparkles and we all laughed and cried as we watched the five minute video. He saw how wonderful Ellie was. Larry was so caring and empathetic to Kristen and gave her a nice hug.

After writing Larry a nice pink sticky note, I put it inside a DVD copy of her memorial service that I gave him. The note let Larry know how much I wanted him to be my friend and to see him again. He left stunned. He could barely walk up the hill. He sat in the truck for some time before he finally drove away.

I’d made an amazing friend and it felt good. He was someone that the old me would not have noticed, and certainly would not have befriended. My new eyes showed me a wonderful opportunity. Larry has a heart of gold. He understands how life works and he works at his life. We have stayed in touch and shared many interesting conversations. I thank God for bringing this amazing man into my life.


The Journey Started

by Craig Doubt Jr.

The journey of loss is marked with tears and regrets, and I am saddened that you and yours must start along this road.

The name of this road is “Why”, for all you ask is “why is my child gone?” You will ask this over and over again. But I warn you now, there are no answers on Why Road. Just a never ending question asked by you and others.

Why road intersects several streets: Anger, Depression, Despair, Remorse, Regret.

You find yourself turned on Depression…with NO idea how you got there. Or how to leave it. But don’t worry about it, Depression is just a quick turn off of Why. Just try to avoid the other streets whenever possible, and when you can’t, DON’T STAY LONG.

As you stay on this road, you will begin to notice others with no idea why you didn’t notice them before. You will see them helping others along. Then, you will find out you have been helped along. And then you will find yourself helping others along.

Where are we headed? The final destination is different for everyone. I know we will pass Acceptance Way, which runs parallel to Dealing With It Blvd. Some will find Peace Drive, and stay. We will all come back to Remembrance Park and reminisce with laughs, smiles and yes, a few tears. Some will be wandering on those bad roads forever, missing the exits, never asking for directions. They don’t really want them.

Ultimately, we will come back to Life’s Highway. A little sadder. A lot stronger. For the life we mourned gives us strength to keep traveling. Until we find them again.

God’s Grace to you as Heaven’s tears mingle with your own. Those tears wash the road to our path will be clearer. Those tears will water the plants and fields of Remembrance Park, so when you arrive to share your stories of your travel, the bad places can be forgotten for a time, and you will see your loved one reflected in the pools there, as one day, others will see you in those same pools, reunited, at peace.

Journey over.


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